President Donald Trump is essentially unopposed in next month’s Republican primary, but Illinois voters still have some important decisions to make.
Five candidates are vying for the right to challenge U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in November, with three of them attending Saturday’s McLean County Republican Primary Preview at the DoubleTree Hotel and Conference Center in Bloomington.
Tom Tarter, Peggy Hubbard and Mark Curran delivered stump speeches trying to convince voters they have the best shot to unseat the entrenched Durbin.
Tarter, a Springfield cancer surgeon, has made health care a focal point of his campaign. He said he supports President Trump’s move to lower health care costs with a pricing transparency rule.
“(That) will create competition in the health care marketplace and reduce the cost of care for most Americans,” said Tarter. “But he can’t do it alone; he needs help from me.
“There is no senatorial candidate including Dick Durbin who has more experience and who is more authoritative on U.S. health care policy than me.”
Though Tarter is a surgeon and not a policy scholar, he said he has a white paper at his website that details what he calls common sense solutions to reducing costs.
He also said he wants to help fix a broken immigration system.
“The Democrats don’t want a wall because walls are effective. They are an open border party; I am not and the Republicans are not,” he said. “So we want to complete the wall, but we also want technology. We want more (border patrol) officers. We want family detention centers; the asylum claims have to be heard in a humane and fair way, but these need to turn around much faster.
“We shouldn’t be releasing people into our interior, and that requires a change in the law. We also need to change our legal immigration system from a family-based chain migration system to a merit-based system.”
Tarter said the country actually needs more legal immigration to offset a declining birth rate.
“American citizens need to decide what our needs are for the future and who we’re going to invite in,” he said.
Tarter claimed he has the financial support that has put him a step ahead of his competition.
“In the third quarter of fundraising, I raised the most money. I raised the most money in the fourth quarter. I've raised the most money overall,” he said. “I’ve done statewide polling and I’ve hired an experienced political team. I’m far ahead of the other candidates, and that's why I am going to be the nominee.”
Hubbard, a Navy veteran and former police officer from Belleville, said she would present a difficult matchup for the four-term incumbent Durbin.
“I’m pretty much the quintessential candidate that he never wants to face,” said Hubbard, a former Democrat. “He was always used to running against white males, older males. But he never had to go up against a minority woman. … That brings a whole different feel and vibe to this campaign.”
Hubbard said she lost a brother in a gang shooting and her personal experience stands in stark contrast to the other Republican candidates.
“Not to throw my opponents under the bus, but they’re really out of touch with what’s going on in the inner city with the gang violence and gun violence,” she said. “These gentlemen never had to face some of the hardships that I had to face in life: growing up in the inner city, growing up poor, growing up in the Democratic Party.
“They belong to country clubs; I belong to Sam's Club.”
Hubbard also points to the personal wealth of her rivals as a reason she is a better choice for GOP voters. She says common citizens can relate better to her life experience than the rest of the field.
“When it comes to real-life issues – how am I going to pay my bills, how am I going to pay my rent or make my mortgage? – I don't think they touch a lot of the angst of what we are going through as actual Illinoisans, as actual Americans,” she said.
“We need somebody that actually lives like us in order to understand the problems that we’re facing in our communities as well as in our country. I think I bring that to the table more than they do.”
Like Hubbard, the former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran was originally a Democrat. He said he’s the only person in the field to have held elective office.
“With me, there’s less of a roll of the dice. I've been vetted,” he said. “People know what I stand for, they’ve seen the record and they’ve seen me defend liberty. They've seen me defend issues like life. They’ve seen that I’m somebody that defended the Second Amendment and believed deeply in it.”
A former prosecutor, Curran said Republican hopefuls will need to do well in “collar counties” such as Lake, McHenry and DuPage to have any chance of beating Durbin. He said his track record of success in those areas.
“People can talk all they want, but talk is cheap,” he said. “I’m the guy that can win.”
One of Curran’s ideas to fix health care is to incentivize healthy behavior through rebates for not smoking or lower rates for healthy eating habits. He also pointed to what he says is a systemic problem in the way government supports health care for low income people.
“There’s also a lot of fraud in Medicaid and even in Medicare that eats up a lot of the tax dollars that (are) supposed to be going there,” he said. “Being a longtime prosecutor, that’s something I'd look into so that the people that actually need it are getting those services.”
While Democrats tend to criticize big business as a tool of the right, Curran said the opposite is true, pointing to Amazon's donations to Democratic candidates. He said he plans to combat both socialism and what he calls “crony capitalism.”
“Historically, the biggest corporations have owned the left; they give all their money to the left,” he said. “They’ve had an unfair advantage over small businesses. So I’m somebody whose economic view or vision is to help small businesses: More entrepreneurs, less regulation and less taxation.”
Curran said the country does not need more big business mergers and that government should let small businesses compete rather than have the big box stores come to town.
The other two Republican Senate candidates, Glenview businessman Casey Chlebek and Burr Ridge physician Robert Marshall, did not attend the event. The primary will be held March 17.
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